Last month, The Anson Record published a story about the 1968 Bowman High School graduating class. It celebrated a 50th anniversary.
Freddie M. Singleton, the lead plaintiff in “Singleton v. Anson County Board of Education,” and Mary Singleton, a member of the Bowman High class that was expelled, responded to the newspaper’s article. In a telephone interview, Freddie Singleton said she didn’t feel the article gave a full account of what took place 50 years ago.
The newspaper agreed to share their account of what took place with readers. Here’s what she and Mary wrote:
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The quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” came to mind when reading the January 2nd article on the 50th reunion of the 1968 Bowman High School graduating class. Forgetting or omitting or rewriting the past is an injustice to truth and facilitates repeating the past. Although the article stated that the class of 1968 “witnessed historical changes at the local, state, and national levels,” the article did not mention the fact that Black seniors almost did not graduate because of a school boycott after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968. Nor did the article reference the racial tension in the County because of the efforts of the Black community to fully desegregate the Anson County school system. The “history” behind the 1968 Bowman High School class graduation was omitted from the article.
Black students at Bowman requested that the flag be lowered in respect to Dr. King just as it had been lowered upon the death of the superintendent. The request was denied by the principal and some Black students began a sit-in outside of the principal’s office. Law enforcement was called to the school and they arrived along with white men in trucks with guns displayed. The Black students walked out of the school and off the campus. Students at Anson Middle School made the same request for the lowering of the flag to honor Dr. King and their request was denied. They walked out of school also. Black students considered the denials to honor Dr. King discriminatory and disrespectful. This treatment and other practices resulted in the boycott of the schools.
Initial negotiations over ending the boycott were not successful. However as graduation neared for Bowman seniors school officials announced students could return without any repercussions with the exception of the leaders of the boycott who would be expelled. Understandably parents agreed to send their children back to school. Black seniors who participated in the boycott returned to Bowman and graduated. The three expelled students left the county in order to graduate.
As documented in the lawsuit against the Anson County Board of Education (Singleton v. Anson County Board of Education), prior to the commencement of the 1965-66 school year each of the three school units in the operated a dual school system based on race. Anson County did not desegregate its schools when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregation is unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education). After passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act the County attempted to circumvent full desegregation by instituting a “freedom of choice” plan in 1965 due to the push by Black citizens for equal educational opportunities. Black parents who chose to send their children to formerly all-white schools were subjected to acts of violence, bombings and shootings. And the students were subjected to racist remarks by teachers and white students and discrimination in the classrooms. As a result of these actions some parents withdrew their children and others were intimidated into not exercising the freedom of choice option.
On behalf of these citizens, the local NAACP, under the leadership of Ada Ford Singleton, our step-mother, advocated for the complete desegregation of Anson County’s school system. The fight for equal rights escalated to a petition to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The Department’s intervention resulted in the N.C. General Assembly mandating that Anson County consolidate all public schools under the jurisdiction, administration and operation of the Anson County Board of Education. This reorganization resulted in the assignment of all students in the 11th and 12th grades to Bowman High School. (At the time of the lawsuit assignment of students in grades 8th through 10th was deferred to further legal proceedings with the freedom of choice plan remaining in effect for these students and students in elementary school).
The fact that the 1968 class was the first to graduate from a consolidated school is not historic. Consolidation only meant the three separate systems (Morven, Wadesboro, and Anson County) were combined administratively. With the exception of Bowman, the other schools in the County were operating under the “freedom of choice plan.” Few Black students were enrolled in the predominately White schools and probably no White students were enrolled in the predominately Black schools. The reason a lawsuit was filed against the Anson County Board of Education was to fully desegregate the entire school system.
History records that Black parents and students boldly sacrificed to achieve a desegregated school system in a segregated community! History records that these parents and students succeeded in attaining the desegregation of one school in the system! Having one administrative system and graduating from a building not used before as a school is not historic!!!